Some people are born with a natural singing voice. Others are determined to hone their talent. But for a handful of people, singing isn’t really a thing they can do. But that doesn’t mean they won’t sign up to do so anyway—even if only because it’s nice to make music with others.
That’s the case for Darlingside, or at least it was for one of the folk band’s founding members, Harris Paseltiner, when he wound up attending the same school as his soon-to-be bandmates: David Senft, Auyon Mukharji, and Don Mitchell.
It all started when the four guys enrolled at Williams College in Western Mass. With graduating classes spanning from 2006 to 2009, it seems likely that they never would have met. Then again, Williams is tiny, usually tapering off each graduating class at around 500 students or so. So while Paseltiner is the youngest of the bunch—he was a freshman when Mitchell was a senior—it didn’t prevent them from meeting each other.
In some cases, like for Senft and Mukharji who were freshman-year roommates, it was education magic playing a solid hand. In other ways, it was simply fate. After showing up a little too early on the first day of orientation his first year, Paseltiner headed to the IT area to get his laptop set up. Meanwhile, holed up at the IT center was Senft, who was the student worker designated to help new students set up their computers.
“He was one of the first people I met at school in general, and he was sitting there with a guitar in his lap, trying to figure out a guitar tab,” Paseltiner says. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh! I guess people play music here!’ It was a big deal to see, especially given it was from him of all people.”
The next day, Mukharji actually came to Paseltiner’s dorm room just to ask if he could borrow his amp for a performance. Because he was a total stranger at the time, Paseltiner declined. While he regrets it in hindsight, Paseltiner recognizes that the early introductions to his future bandmates were signs: there were people on campus who not only wanted to make music, but were driven to make it happen regardless of their circumstances.
That’s a running theme for Darlingside. Years deep in their career, the four musicians have found a way to make music that resonates and feels intimate, if only because the four are running on pure passion and determination. That’s why they met more formally in the Octet, their school’s 13-member a cappella group that performs both traditional barbershop arrangements and modern pop hits, which doesn’t require students join based on vocal skill. Paseltiner had never sung before joining the group his freshman year.
“I looked up to him a lot because he was involved in concert choir and classical music growing up, so he had so much musical knowledge to impart,” Paseltiner says of Mitchell, who was the music director at the time. “Soon we all ended up meeting and playing together outside of singing groups on campus: cover bands, choir, classical music, stuff like that. It was a very supportive group of guys. Honestly, at the time, it was about the friendships and the social experience of hanging out in a group where you all enjoy music. It wasn’t quite about perfection and performance. That supportive, friendly environment got me super comfortable with singing very fast. All I could think was, ‘Hey, this is fun so I’m going to do it just to enjoy it.’ But now it’s panned out to be my job, which is pretty wild to look back and realize.”
The extra dose of comedy that comes in looking back is that Darlingside is more centered around vocal arrangements than most other folk acts. Though each member is dexterous when it comes to cello, guitar, and banjo, it’s their ability to weave their voices so seamlessly that sets Darlingside apart from the bunch. On Extralife, their newest and arguably best record, they sing as if it’s second nature. The racing energy of “Futures” or extra sweet harmonies in “Old Friend” will win over the most whimsical hearts and musically-attuned listeners, even if it’s their first time listening.